The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter XXXVIII: To the Printer of the Public Advertiser: 3 April 1770

[146] SIR,

IN my last letter I offered you my opinion of the truth and propriety of his majesty's answer to the city of London, considering it merely as the speech of a minister, drawn up in his own defence, and delivered, as usual, by the chief magistrate. I would separate, as much as possible, the king's personal character and behaviour from the acts of the present government. I wish it to be understood that his majesty had, in effect, no more concern in the substance of what he said, than sir James Hodges had in the remonstrance: and that as sir James, in virtue of his office, was obliged to speak the sentiments of the people, his majesty might think himself bound, by the same official obligation, to give a graceful utterance to the sentiments of his minister. The cold formality of a well-repeated lesson is widely distant from the animated expression of the heart. This distinction, however, is only true with respect to the measure itself. The consequences of it reach beyond the minister, and materially affect his majesty's honour. In their own nature they are formidable enough to alarm a man of prudence, and disgraceful enough to afflict a man of spirit. A subject, whose sincere attachment to his majesty's person and family is founded upon rational principles, will not, in the present conjuncture, be scrupulous of alarming, or even of afflicting, his sovereign. I know there is another sort of royalty, of which his majesty has plenty of experience. When the loyalty of Tories, Jacobites, and Scotchmen, has once taken possession of an unhappy prince, it seldom leaves him without accomplishing his destruction. When the poison of their doctrines has tainted the natural benevolence of his disposition, when their insidious counsels have corrupted the stamina of his government, what antidote can restore him to his political health and honour but the firm sincerity of his English subjects?

It has not been usual, in this country, at least since the [147] days of Charles the First, to see the sovereign personally at variance, or engage in a direct altercation with his subjects. Acts of grace and indulgence are wisely appropriated to him, and should constantly be performed by himself. He never should appear but in an amiable light to his subjects. Even in France, as long as any ideas of a limited monarchy were thought worth preserving, it was a maxim that no man should leave the royal presence discontented. They have lost or renounced the moderate principles of their government; and now, when their parliaments venture to remonstrate, the tyrant comes forward, and answers absolutely for himself. The spirit of their present constitution requires that the king should be feared; and the principle, I believe, is tolerably supported by the fact. But, in our political system, the theory is at variance with the practice, for the king should be beloved.

Measures of greater severity may, indeed, in some circumstances, be necessary: but the minister who advises should take the execution and odium of them entirely upon himself. He not only betrays his master, but violates the spirit of the English constitution, when he exposes the chief magistrate to the personal hatred or contempt of his subjects. When we speak of the firmness of government, we mean an uniform system of measures, deliberately adopted, and resolutely maintained by the servants of the crown; not a peevish asperity in the language and behaviour of the sovereign. The government of a weak, irresolute monarch, may be wise, moderate, and firm: that of an obstinate, capricious prince, on the contrary, may be feeble, undetermined, and relaxed. The reputation of public measures depends upon the minister, who is responsible; not upon the king, whose private opinions are not supposed to have any weight against the advice of his council, and whose personal authority should, therefore, never be interposed in public affairs. This, I believe, is true constitutional doctrine. But for a moment let us suppose it false. Let it be taken for granted, that an occasion may arise in which a king of England shall be compelled to take upon himself the ungrateful office of rejecting the petitions and censuring the conduct of his subjects; and let the city remonstrance be supposed to have created so extraordinary an occasion. On this principle, which I presume no [148] friend of administration will dispute, let the wisdom and spirit of the ministry be examined. They advise the king to hazard his dignity, by a positive declaration of his own sentiments; they suggest to him a language full of severity and reproach. What follows? When his majesty had taken so decisive a part in support of his ministry and parliament, he had a right to expect from them a reciprocal demonstration of firmness in their own cause, and of their zeal for his honour. He had reason to expect (and such, I doubt not, were the blustering promises of Lord North) that the persons whom he had been advised to charge with having failed in their respect to him, with having injured parliament, and violated the principles of the constitution, should not have been permitted to escape without some severe marks of the displeasure and vengeance of parliament. As the matter stands, the minister, after placing his sovereign in the most unfavourable light to his subjects, and after attempting to fix the ridicule and odium of his own precipitate measures upon the royal character, leaves him a solitary figure upon the scene, to recall, if he can, or to compensate, by future compliances, for one unhappy demonstration of ill-supported firmness and ineffectual resentment. As a man of spirit, his majesty cannot but be sensible, that the lofty terms in which he was persuaded to reprimand the city, when united with the silly conclusion of the business, resembled the pomp of a mock tragedy, where the most pathetic sentiments, and even the sufferings of the hero, are calculated for derision.

Such have been the boasted firmness and consistency of a minister,* whose appearance in the house of commons was thought essential in the king's service; whose presence was to influence every division; who had a voice to persuade, an eye to penetrate, a gesture to command. The reputation of these great qualities has been fatal to his friends. The little dignity of Mr. Ellis has been committed. The mine was sunk; combustibles

*This graceful minister is oddly constructed. His tongue is a little too big for his mouth, and his eyes a great deal too big for their sockets. Every part of his person sets natural proportion at defiance. At this present writing his head is supposed to be much too heavy for his shoulders.

[149] were provided; and Welbore Ellis, the Guy Faux of the fable, waited only for the signal of command. All of a sudden the country gentlemen discover how grossly they have been deceived: the minister's heart fails him; the grand plot is defeated in a moment, and poor Mr. Ellis and his motion taken into custody. From the event of Friday last, one would imagine that some fatality hung over this gentleman. Whether he makes or suppresses a motion, he is equally sure of disgrace. But the complexion of the times will suffer no man to be vice-treasurer of Ireland with impunity.*

I do not mean to express the smallest anxiety for the minister's reputation. He acts separately for himself, and the most shameful inconsistency may perhaps be no disgrace to him. But when the sovereign, who represents the majesty of the state, appears in person, his dignity should be supported: the occasion should be important; the plan well considered; the execution steady and consistent. My zeal for his majesty's real honour, compels me to assert, that it has been too much the system of the present reign, to introduce him personally either to act for or defend his servants. They persuade him to do what is properly their business, and desert him in the midst of it. Yet this is an inconvenience to which he must for ever be exposed, while he adheres to a ministry divided among themselves, or unequal in credit and ability to the great task they have undertaken. Instead of reserving the interposition of the royal personage as the last resource of government, their weakness obliges them to apply it to every ordinary occasion, and to render it cheap and common in the opinion of the people. Instead of supporting their master, they look to him for support; and for the

* About this time the courtiers talked of nothing but a bill of pains and penalties against the lord mayor and sheriffs, or impeachment at the least. Little Mannikin Ellis told the king, that if the business were left to his management, he would engage to do wonders. It was thought very odd that a business of so much importance should be entrusted to the most contemptible little piece of machinery in the whole kingdom. His honest zeal, however, was disappointed. The minister took fright; and, at the very instant that little Ellis was going to open, sent him an order to set down. All their magnanimous threats ended in a ridiculous vote of censure and a still more ridiculous address to the king.

[150] emolument of remaining one day more in office, care not how much his sacred character is prostituted and dishonoured.

If I thought it possible for this paper to reach the closet, I would venture to appeal at once to his majesty's judgement. I would ask him, but in the most respectful terms, "As you are a young man, sir, who ought to have a life of happiness in prospect; as you are a husband, as you are a father, (your filial duties, I own, have been religiously performed) is it bona fide for your interest or your honour, to sacrifice your domestic tranquillity, and to live in a perpetual disagreement with your people, merely to preserve such a chain of beings as North, Barrington, Weymouth, Gower, Ellis, Onslow, Rigby, Jerry Dyson, and Sandwich? Their very names are a satire upon all government! and I defy the gravest of your chaplains to read the catalogue without laughing."

For my own part, sir, I have always considered addresses from parliament, as a fashionable, unmeaning formality. Usurpers, idiots, and tyrants, have been successively complimented with almost the same professions of duty and affection. But let us suppose them to mean exactly what they profess. The consequences deserve to be considered. Either the sovereign is a man of high spirit and dangerous ambition, ready to take advantage of the treachery of the parliament, ready to accept of the surrender they make him of the public liberty; or he is a mild, undesigning prince, who, provided they indulge him with a little state and pageantry would of himself intend no mischief. On the first supposition, it must soon be decided by the sword, whether the constitution should be lost or preserved. On the second, a prince, no way qualified for the execution of a great and hazardous enterprise, and without any determined object in view, may nevertheless be driven into such desperate measures, as may lead directly to his ruin; or disgrace himself by a shameful fluctuation between the extremes of violence at one moment, and timidity at another. The minister, perhaps, may have reason to be satisfied with the success of the present hour, and with the profits of his employment. He is the tenant of the day, and has no interest in the inheritance. The sovereign himself is bound by other obligations, and ought to look forward to a superior, a [151] permanent interest. His paternal tenderness should remind him how many hostages he has given to society. The ties of nature come powerfully in aid of oath and protestations. The father, who considers his own precarious state of health, and the possible hazard of a long minority, will wish to see the family estate free and unincumbered.* What is the dignity of the crown, though it were really maintained; what is the honour of parliament, supposing it could exist without any foundation of integrity and justice; or what is the vain reputation of firmness, even if the scheme of the government were uniform and consistent, compared with the heart-felt affections of the people, with the happiness and security of the royal family, or even with the grateful acclamations of the populace? Whatever style of contempt may be adopted by ministers or parliaments, no man sincerely despises the voice of the English nation. The house of commons are only interpreters, whose duty it is to convey the sense of the people faithfully to the crown. If the interpretation be false or imperfect, the constituent powers are called upon to deliver their own sentiments. Their speech is rude, but intelligible; their gestures fierce, but full of expression. Perplexed by sophistries, their honest eloquence rises into action. Their first appeal was to the integrity of their representatives; their second, to the king's justice. The last argument of the people, whenever they have recourse to it, will carry more perhaps, than persuasion to parliament, or supplication to the throne.


*Every true friend to the house of Brunswick sees with affliction how rapidly some of the principal branches of the family have dropped off.

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